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challenge contest winner

Diana Goodwin on Dragons' Den.

Diana Goodwin knew she had a winning business even before she beat out more than 3,000 competitors in last year's $100,000 Small Business Challenge contest, a national competition sponsored by The Globe and Mail and Telus Corp.

Three Dragons told her so.

Ms. Goodwin, founder of Toronto-based Aquamobile Inc., appeared in a Dragons' Den episode that aired March 9 on CBC but was taped last spring, just a few months after the Challenge contest launched. She had asked the show's business moguls for $200,000 – "for marketing and advertising, to add some more horsepower to the business" – in exchange for a 10-per-cent equity stake in Aquamobile, a learn-at-home swimming school.

Dragons Joe Mimran and Michele Romanow came in with a joint offer of $200,000 for 15 per cent of the business. But it was Jim Treliving, chairman and owner of Boston Pizza International Inc., who gave Ms. Goodwin an offer she couldn't refuse.

"He gave me exactly what I asked for, and he also offered that we could use his office space in Dallas because he knew that expansion in the U.S. was very important to us," says Ms. Goodwin, whose company has more than 750 certified instructors serving Toronto and parts of Florida, California, Arizona and Texas. "But aside from those things, he's a very successful entrepreneur who has scaled a business across regions, and there's definitely a lot I can learn from him."

While Ms. Goodwin accepted Mr. Treliving's offer on the air, the deal is on hold. With Aquamobile about to enter its busy season for 2015, Ms. Goodwin had asked Mr. Treliving to give her more time to provide the information he needed to do his due diligence on the company.

But when she learned last September that she had won the Small Business Challenge contest, Ms. Goodwin decided to forego Mr. Treliving's investment and instead use the $100,000 contest prize money to build her company.

"We're going to use that first and see how much expansion we can do," says Ms. Goodwin. "Jim Treliving basically said he is keeping the door wide open to the deal if I'm ever interested in the future, so right now I'm going to wait and see."

Like all entrepreneurs who appear on Dragons' Den, Ms. Goodwin had to audition to be on the show. She says she tried out twice.

"I didn't get on the first time, I think because I didn't do a good job of painting a clear picture of the value of Aquamobile," she says. "The second time around I was much more clear and the business had also grown to a certain level."